Knights sweep Indee tournament
September 5, 2019


Sixth-ranked Union volleyball got their 2019 season off to a strong start as the Knights went 5-0 in a tournament at Independence on Saturday, Aug. 31, sweeping their pool and emerging victorious in tournament play against ranked squads Janesville and West Delaware for a championship.

"In the early season, we're hoping to see improvement each and every game," coach Brian Jesse said. "We've spent a lot of time practicing and at camps, so we've been anxious to get started."

The Knights, who went 2-2 in the tournament last season, kicked off their morning against Oelwein, quickly overwhelming the Huskies 21-4 and 21-10. In her varsity debut off the bench, sophomore Belle Olson went a perfect 18-18 serving, throwing in five aces against the Huskies. Though the Knights wouldn't be as dominant against Starmont their next game, Union would dull the Stars 21-12 and 21-13 behind 10 kills from Belle Weber, six kills from Lexi Nolan and Jasmyn Bush tallying 10 digs in the win. Stiffer competition would come in the form of host Independence, pushing Union to two close sets 21-17 and and a nail-biting 21-19. Weber posted eight kills alongside Bush with seven kills.

"We got to a pretty good start against Oelwein and kept it going," Jesse said. "It's important we won our pool because we've talked about performing better in tournaments this year. We didn't perform bad last year, but I feel we didn't come through as well as we could. We didn't let up this year and we were able to do the things we needed to at the right time."

Union would take first place in their pool outright, which set them up for a match against the second place team in the opposite pool, as opposed to potentially taking second and having to face off against the top team from the second pool immediately. Jesse stated he was proud of how the Knights performed in pool play, taking all three games without losing a set and sending them to the tournament round.

"Belle [Weber] really has been whacking the ball around and it's great to see her healthy," Jesse said. "I thought Allie (Driscol) did a nice job setting. Sam had that big block at the end of the Independence game and she's going to continue getting better."

The first round of single-elimination tournament play pitted the Knights against the Wildcats of Janesville, the number three team in 1A and the winner of four consecutive state titles. A back-and-forth battle ensued against the two ranked squads, tied 22-22 late in the first set. A block by Bush would give Union a well-fought win 25-23. The Wildcats would regroup and gain momentum in the second set, taking a 11-9 lead to prompt a Union timeout. Several tense volleys followed afterwards before a short serve by Driscol gave the Knights a 20-15 lead, followed by a 5-2 run to extend to a 25-17 win and Union's first over a ranked team on the early season. Bush finished the match with nine kills, five digs, seven total blocks and hit nine of ten on her serves with five aces. Weber had eight kills, 10 digs and went nine of 10 serving. Driscol tallied 22 sets, eight digs and went 10 of 11 serving. Sophomore libero Bailey Foulk had eight digs off the bench.

"Janesville is so good defensively," Jesse said. "We had hits that should have been down and they just got them up."

Yet Union's largest challenge of the tournament came in the championship game against the Hawks of West Delaware, the number three team in 4A and undefeated on the day alongside Union. Jesse noted the Hawks had a bit more firepower than Janesville possessed, yet the Knights held their own in another close 25-23 win. West Delaware would overcome a 19-16 hole to take the second set 25-22, setting up for a decisive third set. Momentum appeared to be in the Hawks' side of the court as the Knights tired, down 8-12. Four straight points would tie the game 12-12 as tensions came to a high. Union would hold on to take a 16-14 win and be crowned champions of their first tournament of 2019. Bush and Weber would tally 12 kills each, combining for 15 digs, four blocks and 13 of 16 serving in the win. Nolan finished with five kills, 11 digs and was 10 of 12 serving. Sophie Winkelpleck tallied five kills, 11 digs and was nine of 10 serving. Driscol capped off her day with 29 assists, five digs and was a perfect nine of nine serving. Sam Gleen had four blocks in the win.

"This is a great start to the year, not just because we won, but because we competed very well as we faced different things," Jesse said. "Our serve receive was good all day. We've got four primary serve receivers and they all contributed. Jazz has overall played well. A lot of good things."

In the tournament overall, Weber finished with 45 kills, 30 digs, 10 blocks, and went 43 of 46 serving with six aces. Bush finished with 34 kills, 33 digs, 14 blocks and went 24 of 28 serving with eight aces. Driscol had 97 assists during the tournament. Glenn had 13 blocks on the day.

"We need to block a little better, getting our timing better to get easy points off blocks," Jesse said. "This shorter rotation gives us more flexibility and look at bringing new people in with certain situations. We were strapped last year with rotations. It's a different year and it works out well with these people."

The Knight's 5-0 run through the tournament may also have to do with a little "extra help" from their newest team mascot: Bri-Anna, a porcelain doll the team found randomly in a tree while attending a summer volleyball camp at Iowa State University. The team has taken their new "good luck charm" everywhere with them, including this tournament. Several players comment they have played at their best with Bri-Anna watching from the sidelines. While several people-one certain editor included-have joked the doll is evil and may possess supernatural powers, Jesse has allowed the team to keep the doll, which is named after him.

"It's creepy, but whatever helps," Jesse said with a smirk.

The Knights next began conference play at Aplington-Parkersburg on Thursday, Sept. 5. Union will host fourth-ranked Hudson on Tuesday, Sept. 10 for their home opener.


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